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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Clinton Wrong About Wall Street Attacks

Hillary Clinton falsely claimed she is “the only candidate” in the presidential campaign “on either side” who has been attacked in advertising funded by “Wall Street financiers and hedge fund managers.” Actually, several candidates have been the target of ads funded in part by those in the financial industry.

In fact, by Clinton’s logic, real estate developer Donald Trump seems to be the favorite target of “Wall Street financiers and hedge fund managers” — not Clinton.

Clinton made her remarks on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on April 3. Host Chuck Todd showed a video clip of Bernie Sanders urging Clinton to release the transcripts of her paid speeches to business groups. Asked for her response, Clinton said Sanders was “misrepresenting my record when it comes to being tough on Wall Street,” adding that Wall Street financiers oppose her candidacy.

Clinton, April 3: I’m the only candidate in the Democratic primary, or actually on either side, who Wall Street financiers and hedge fund managers are actually running ads against.

That’s not remotely true.

The Clinton campaign referred us to an Oct. 28, 2015, USA Today news article about Future45, a super PAC that has received funding from well-known Republican donors. In the story, which is headlined “New Republican super PAC takes aim at Hillary Clinton,” USA Today‘s Fredreka Schouten wrote: “The super PAC has received financial support from Ken Griffin and Paul Singer, the billionaire founders of hedge funds, along with some members of TD Ameritrade founder J. Joe Ricketts’ family.”

It’s true that Singer and Griffin have donated to Future45. It is also true that Future45 has spent about $500,000 on ads attacking Clinton, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ opensecrets.org.

But Singer and Griffin also gave to other outside groups that have spent millions on TV ads attacking Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and John Kasich.

Singer, who gave $250,000 to Future45, donated $1 million to Our Principles PAC, an anti-Trump super PAC, and $5 million to Conservative Solutions PAC, which supported Marco Rubio, according to opensecrets.org. Our Principles has spent $14.8 million attacking Trump, while Conservative Solutions has run $16.7 million in attack ads against Trump, Cruz, Christie, Bush and Kasich.

Likewise, Kenneth Griffin has given $250,000 to Future45, but he also has given $5.1 million to Conservative Solutions, according to opensecrets.org.

And, of course, Singer and Griffin aren’t the only ones in the financial industry who contributed to outside groups seeking to influence the presidential election.

For example, Keep the Promise I — a pro-Cruz super PAC — was formed with an $11 million donation from Robert Mercer, the co-chief executive officer of Renaissance Technologies, a $25 billion private hedge fund firm. Keep the Promise I has spent nearly $9.5 million on ads, including $2.2 million against Marco Rubio and about $900,000 against Trump. By contrast, the group spent just $80,000 against Clinton.

Who’s the top target of “Wall Street financiers and hedge fund managers”? It appears to be Trump, by a landslide.

We cannot know for sure exactly how much outside groups spend on attack ads, because of the way the groups report ad buys to the Federal Election Commission.

Here’s how it works: The groups must file reports on their “independent expenditures,” which is the FEC’s term for “a communication expressly advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate.” In those reports, the groups must identify the candidate who is either being “supported” or “opposed” in the ad. That’s a judgment call that causes inconsistencies in the reporting.

For example, Right to Rise USA — a super PAC that supported Jeb Bush — spent $81 million on TV ads, by far the most of any outside group to date, according to opensecrets.org. However, Right to Rise USA reported that a whopping $78.4 million of that money was spent on ads supporting Bush, while only $2.8 million was spent on ads opposing other Republican candidates, mostly Marco Rubio (nearly $1.9 million). That’s simply not accurate.

Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, a service that tracks political ads and estimates how much groups spend to buy airtime for the ads, told us that Right to Rise USA spent more on negative ads ($14 million) and contrast ads (about $19 million) than it did on solely pro-Bush positive ads ($31 million). “We assign political ads one of three different types of ‘tone’ – positive, negative, or contrast. In the case of [Right to Rise USA], a positive ad would only mention Bush; a negative ad would only mention one or more of his opponents; and a contrast ad would mention both Bush and one or more of his opponents,” Andrew Fitzgerald, Kantar Media’s senior political and environmental media analyst, told us.

“I suspect that the PAC counts any ad that mentions Bush as ‘supporting Bush’ even if in the process it attacks other candidates,” Fitzgerald said.

Nevertheless, we attempted to quantify the top target of “Wall Street financiers and hedge fund managers,” based on opensecrets.org’s analyses of the independent expenditure reports filed by the outside groups.

We looked at the 10 outside groups that so far have spent the most on independent expenditures. Each spent at least $5 million. Seven of the top 10 received at least $1 million in donations from those in the securities and investment and commercial banking industries — which is how opensecrets.org defines “Wall Street” donations. We focused our analysis on those seven groups.

(Note: The $1 million threshold eliminated two groups — Club for Growth and American Future Fund — that may have received more than $1 million from the financial sector, but we don’t know because they have formed 501(c) organizations under IRS regulations and don’t have to disclose their donors. Club for Growth, and its super PAC, Club for Growth Action, is actively opposed to Trump.)

The seven remaining groups from the top 10 list combined to spend nearly $196 million on independent expenditures and received at least $91.7 million in contributions from the securities and investment and commercial banking industries. They spent nearly $21 million against Trump — led by the anti-Trump Our Principles PAC. That dwarfs what was spent against the other candidates, which in order were: Cruz, $4.6 million; Rubio, $4.1 million; Christie, $3.6 million; Bush, $3.1 million; and Kasich, $2.3 million. Five other candidates — including Clinton — were the target of less than $100,000 in ads total from those seven groups. (See our list here.)

Future45 ranks 40th on opensecrets.org’s list of top spending outside groups, having spent less than $600,000 to date. In addition to spending $508,000 on multiple ads attacking Clinton, Future45 spent about $45,000 on a single ad attacking Sanders for proposing to raise taxes to pay for free college tuition and health care during a “weak economy.”

So Clinton is not, as she says, “the only candidate” in the presidential campaign “on either side” who has been attacked in advertising funded by “Wall Street financiers and hedge fund managers.” She is not even the top target.

Josh Schwerin, a Clinton campaign spokesman, told us that the Future45 ad attacking Sanders was actually a pro-Sanders ad in disguise. He cited a liberal blogger who wrote that the ad “touts Sanders’ support for tuition-free college, single-payer health care, and higher taxes on the ‘super-rich.’ ” Fair enough. But Singer, Griffin and other “Wall Street financiers and hedge fund managers” gave millions more to PACs that attacked Trump and other Republican candidates. Schwerin did not address that. We asked him if Clinton misspoke, but Schwerin did not respond to that question.